Crisis: When You Don’t Know What to Say


As a chronically ill person who looks normal on the outside, I find that people often don’t know what to say when I’m in a flare or I have to seek emergency medical treatment. I don’t understand how one day I can perfectly fine and the next confined to bed, so how do I expect outsiders looking in to get it? People don’t know what to say. They shuffle uncomfortably in front of you. They wring their hands. They offer to pray. They walk away. I know before my nursing education, I was guilty of some of the same behavior.

What do you say when someone is chronically ill and in pain? What do you do when someone you love is dying from cancer? What do you say when someone files for divorce? When someone dies? When someone lost their job? We humans just are not good at awkward moments. I’m certainly not good at it, but I’m willing to try to do better.

Recently my Sunday School class studied a book, “Fight Back With Joy” by Margaret Fineberg. Margaret is a Christian speaker who recently survived breast cancer. Her book is about her faith and battle with cancer. I felt the advice she gave applied to anyone going through a crisis.

If you have a loved one going through a crisis of some sort and don’t know what to say, these are great tips outlined by Margaret.

5 Things To Say When You Don’t Know What to Say

  1. “Know that you are loved and prayed for today.” This puts the focus on the person in crisis and lets them know you are concerned. The words let the person in crisis know they aren’t alone and that God is with them too.
  2. “My heart aches with you and for you today.” This lets the one in crisis know that you feel their grief but still centers on the person in crisis.
  3. “I have experienced loss, and I am so sorry for what you’re going through.” This opens up the possibility of comforting those in crisis with the comfort you received. Remember to keep the focus on the person in crisis and not your own story.
  4. “If you have a specific prayer request, I’d be honored to pray for you. But in the meantime, know that I’m praying for you and asking God how to pray for you best.” This breaks the silence and lets the person in crisis know that you are committed to pray. Often during a crisis the person doesn’t know ask you to pray about.
  5. “You are so loved! What specific thing can I do and/or provide that would help you right now? Let me know – and if you don’t have any ideas, I have suggestions.” Don’t assume you know what someone needs. This usually results in an abundance of one or two resources and a lack of other needs being met. “The refrigerator fills with casseroles that soon go bad; the closets overflow with blankets while medical bills go unpaid and the lawn isn’t mowed for months.” Offer practical ideas like mowing the lawn, watching the children, cleaning the house, doing a load of laundry but only if you are sincere in helping.

Source: “Fight Back With Joy” by Margaret Fineberg, pg179-182.

For more ways to serve those in crisis check out Margaret’s webpage:

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